After I’m Gone
September 29, 2009
A couple of weeks ago my attention was drawn to a post on a blog called, Her Bad Mother (you can read it here), that, in a nutshell, talks about how, after the blogger’s father dies, letters are unearthed that were written to him by a woman he had an affair with. His daughter, the author of the post, grapples with whether to keeps the letters and a photograph of the woman (that her mother found) or not. She also wonders if she would keep her own journals and letter that maybe her own children might find and read one day. In the end, (and really, I am not doing her post justice so read it for yourself) she feels hanging on to her journals would be a way for her children to have a better insight and understanding of who she really is: a person so much more than just a mother or wife. I can completely appreciate that choice, but I also have very mixed feeling about it.
Reading her post, I felt various emotions simultaneously shooting off like firecrackers inside my bloodstream. I (as you may or may not know from reading some of my previous posts) am in the process of destroying old letters and journals (it can be slow going at times – yawn…). After reading Her Bad Mother’s post I still feel good about my decision to do so. Unlike HBM, I’m not a mom, so having to keep in mind my imaginary kid’s impression of me once I’m gone doesn’t weigh in. Still, I’d rather not have anyone read some of the stuff I’ve written over the last thirty plus years. For me, keeping a journal (for the most part) has been about trying to sift through the crap in my life. Kind of like mining for the golden nuggets of my psyche shimmering underneath all the murk and gunk that living one’s life tends to pile on in confusing heaps. Writing has also allowed me to rant about things I’ve needed to diffuse or unload – behind closed doors (until I started blogging. haha.). I don’t think a loved one needs to find out, who knows how many years from now, after I’m gone, that the remark they tossed at me all those years earlier, really hurt my feelings (why didn’t I tell them then? They might wonder). Or, that I never did like that shirt they adored. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love them. What it does mean (for me) is that I found it very helpful to write my feelings down, privately, in order to help me make sense of whatever I was writing about. Does whoever might read my journals after I’m gone need to know how angry I could get, or how vulnerable I felt at times or how pathetic I reacted toward someone or something? Do they need to know what I hated or loved or hick-upped about? Just because they didn’t know every detail doesn’t mean they didn’t really know who I was. I want to be as honest as I can be, with myself and those around me, hopefully giving out a true representation of who I am – while I’m alive. I don’t feel it’s necessary (nor do I want) someone to know every detail of how I got to be this person. Why would it benefit a person to really know who I am once I’m… dead.
Recently, I discovered a few things about my own father, six years after he passed away, that came as quite a shock. I’m not quite ready to put the information out there into Cyberworld since it involves more people than just myself. But, what I will say is, I wish I had known about this while my father was still alive. I can not begin to tell you how grateful I am to have this information, regardless of how it came to pass. But, now that my father’s gone (and yes, I still do miss him) I have no one to answer the many questions I have - questions only he could answer. I feel, in some ways, leaving these undetonated secrets behind (which is kinda what it’s like when we leave pieces of undisclosed information behind for others to possibly trip over after we’re gone) lacks courage (is this another way of saying cowardly? Ugh… Sorry Dad.). These secrets can be like buried treasures to someone when found several years after the fact. But, they can also be like landmines. If I discovered a really cool aspect of, say, one of my parents after they had passed away, I think I’d feel ripped of. Maybe I would have liked to share that part of who they were with them? Maybe it would have made us closer? On the flip side, revealing something more painful might make it difficult to digest without that person there to help us process it. It leaves that person (the finder) holding the wrinkled pages of someone’s past, trying to make sense of it in ways that aren’t theirs, really, to make sense of. What if the discovery makes one angry or sad or confused. To whom does that person direct these feelings to?
This is where the mixed feeling come in for me. In my own case, I feel a certain amount of anger, because the impression I had of my father was based on information I didn’t completely have. I love him as much as I always have (can’t touch that) but the person I see when I close my eyes has changed. I forgive him for not sharing and I think in some ways I might even (sometimes?) understand him keeping what he did to himself (sometimes not). But, then again there’s a part of me that feels duped and I’m miffed that I need to figure this stuff out on my own. And by on my own I mean without his input.
My situation didn’t really have to do with a box of journals tucked away. Not really. It was more like a couple of major facts that were pushed to the corner of the closet. But it’s kind of the same thing. Letting someone stumble on this stuff after they’ve gone basically says this to me: I didn’t want you to know about this when I was alive because I didn’t have the strength to do it. Now you deal with it… You deal with it on your own. And there’s a big part of me that feels this is pretty unfair.
That being said. Would I rather not have this information. No way. If this is the way the information was meant to come to me, then so be it. I’d rather have it now then have never discovered it. But, would I have preferred to know sooner? You bet. Do I have any questions surrounding this situation that my father (and no one else) might have been able to answer for me? Where do I begin?
Is it wrong to keep a secret? It’s not always easy (or necessary in my opinion) to divulge certain pieces of information about ourselves. I think it depends on what that piece of information is. When is the right time to reveal a juicy bit about ourselves to our families, partners or friends? If there are parts of ourselves we’re reluctant to reveal while we’re living why, we should ask ourselves, is it okay for someone to make this discovery when we’re no longer around, with no one there to help that person truly understand?
We will all have our own answer to the question of To Keep Or Not To Keep. I guess it might depend on the type of journals or letters, photographs or details someone hangs on to or why they’re keeping them in the first place. Are these items personal or something you actually hope someone might read one day. There is no right or wrong answer. And for the record, I don’t think Her Bad Mother is implying there is one. That is her story. This is mine. It was great for me to read her post on this topic because it’s something I’ve thought about – a lot.
All that being said, I am incredibly grateful for the information I’ve been granted access to. Never knowing would have been the real crime. In my case, it’s been a gift. But I so (so, so, so) wish I had received that gift sooner. However, I am realistic (for the most part) and think if that could have happened it would have happened – so this is the way it was meant to be.
Ideally, I hope I can be the type person who shares all of the pieces of who I am (the pieces I ultimately want to share even if doing so might be difficult) – now. But, I know this can be hard, that life is not always ideal and that we all need to do things the way we need to (or are capable of) doing them. And I can respect that.
A MINI UPDATE:
I should add that the glimpses I’ve been given, in relation to my own discovery, have been priceless. A treasure. However shocking as they initially were after the fact. So, I am grateful for the remnants.